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10 October, 2020 07:52:45 PM

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Nutritional benefits and health risks of eggs

The versatile, multifaceted 'Mr Egg', can he bring any danger for you? Can eating eggs or too many eggs create any health risks? In other words, how many eggs a day or a week can be considered safe?
Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin
Nutritional benefits and health risks of eggs

The 9th of October was the World Egg Day this year. The day was celebrated around the world on the second Friday in October each year since it was established at the 1996 Vienna conference of The International Egg Commission (IEC), an organisation that represents the global egg industry.

The decision was made to help raise awareness of the benefits of eggs and their importance in human nutrition.

Eggs have played an outstanding role across the world, in feeding humankind of all ages - children, adults and old people, from times immemorial. They are accepted by all communities irrespective of religion, race or nationality. They are one of the highest quality protein sources of nature with all essential amino acids that body needs to maintain good health. Besides, research has confirmed that eggs also contain many nutrients required for health and wellbeing: lutein and zeaxanthin, which are good for the eyes; choline, which is good for the brain and nerves; and various vitamins (A, B, and D). Indeed, they offer an unbeatable package when it comes to versatility and top-quality protein at a very affordable price with just no competition in terms of convenience and terrific taste. It's one of the most popular food items in our everyday life. In Bangladesh, you'll hardly find any family who doesn't want to put eggs on their regular food list.

This versatile, multifaceted 'Mr Egg', can he bring any danger for you? Can eating eggs or too many eggs create any health risks? In other words, how many eggs a day or a week can be considered safe? There'd been long controversy on the issue that's not yet been over. At the heart of the controversy is the presence of high levels of cholesterol in eggs. The question is, can it raise bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in blood? Can it create or increase the risk of heart attack or stroke? For these reasons, eggs, especially the 'yellow part' of the egg, had long been considered to be somehow untouchable for people who have had or are at risk for such a disease. However, research over the years has shown that cholesterol in our body is made by liver primarily from saturated fat and trans-fat in our diet, it doesn't come from cholesterol we eat. Eggs contain little saturated fat and no trans-fat.

This brought a change in views about eating eggs. Seemingly, eggs long-vilified by doctors and scientists researching heart disease is about to make a comeback. From what we know today, here's the bottom line: for most people, an egg a day does not increase the risk of a heart attack, a stroke, or any other type of cardiovascular disease. No more than three eggs per week is wise if you have diabetes, are at high risk for heart disease from other causes (such as smoking), or already have heart disease. [Are eggs risky for heart health? - Harvard Health, Published: January, 2017; Updated

24 June, 2019]. Of course, it matters greatly what you eat with your eggs. You need to consider how much saturated fat or trans-fat you are taking in the other foods. However, there is no substitute for caution in eating excessive eggs. As it found in a recent study, for each extra half-egg eaten per day — totaling just three to four more eggs per week — a person’s cardiovascular disease risk went up by 6%, and his or her risk of early death increased by 8%.

Another health concern with eggs is that they may be a source of bacterial infections, especially Salmonella infections, leading to food poisoning. In some cases, the patient may need to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may even spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites, and without timely and proper treatment and care, the patients may even die. On an egg farm or in backyard hen houses, there are many potential sources of Salmonella infection including the people who are handling the eggs, rodents, poultry feed or dust. Typically, these germs are transmitted from infected chicken droppings to the egg surface. The germs can later breed by entering through the microscopic pores in the egg shell. The question is, what is the solution to this problem? Someone may say that after collecting the eggs, they should be thoroughly washed before marketing. However, this may rather lead to adverse consequences. The egg has a thin cuticle around the shell, which closes the fine pores of the shell. This blocks the entry of germs from the outside of the egg to the inside. Washing eggs remove this coating. This opens the door for germs to enter the egg. What's the way out, then? Farmers have the most important role to play here. The hen house, especially where the eggs are laid, needs to be cleaned regularly. And as a consumer, all you have to do is washing your hands and utensils with soapy water before and after handling eggs. If the eggs are cooked thoroughly, these germs die. Uncooked or lightly cooked eggs or foods in which eggs have been used in such a condition should be avoided. Special caution is needed in persons with weaker immune systems, such as senior citizens, young children and pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems (eg, transplant patients, and individuals with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and diabetes). According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), eggs can sweat at room temperature, making it easier for bacteria to enter the shells and grow. This risk increases over the storage time, as the natural barriers of the egg start to break down with increasing age of the egg. So, you have to store eggs in fridge and eat before the 'best before date' expires. It may be mentioned here that in most of the cases in our country, marketing of eggs with production and expiration dates does not seem to be in practice yet.

Since the key source of the total problem is contamination of eggs by germs at the farm level, the concerned departments of the government have the opportunity to play an important role here. If appropriate steps are taken to make farmers aware and their activities are monitored regularly, the possibility of spreading of such an infection through eggs will be greatly minimised.

The writer is a Professor of Pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University.

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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